Western Short Story
The Long Fight for the Right Kid
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

There had been no discussion when he was named Clinton ‘Clint’ Crossley, out of Nevada proper, for soon as thinking came along he wanted to be a sheriff like his Uncle Buster Crossley, “Up an’ at ‘em Crossley,” once touted as the best man with a gun in all of Nevada, and not a single second person listed in that line, for most of them had been shot at close quarters, jailed, hung, or serving time locally or elsewhere, Nevada at a murmur all over.

“Buster was the apple in the pie,” as many people said, in tribute to his past, as he now sat on his porch in a deep, deep chair, age-old comfort afoot, memories of Grandma so far down the trail she couldn’t get back on a bet or the best horse she ever saddled.

Age, we see, has its own weights aboard, loss of quickness, talent, and a bunch of other clutches adding their own means or measures.

Once in a while, some old foe or a prisoner let go by his sentence time, took a long shot at Buster in the deep chair, but never hung around to be nabbed again, Buster saying, “Hell, they couldn’t shoot back then and, by God, they can’t shoot now,” and he’d go back to his nap on the deck of the old house where the mountain says hello to the sun before anybody wakes up to start living again, start out with old accountabilities on a new footing,.

Buster was a laid-back legend who put his eye on Clint as soon as he saw him come into this world, Nevada gone quiet for a half-dozen years in the interim, but noise came fast-approaching with new vigor as thieves and killers, having their own lineage, entered the game; law again becoming a two-way road, the do’s and don’ts in the mix no matter where one looked. That was even if it was shoved down one’s throat, thereby laying a claim in spades, skinning the apple of its shine a little bit more each day.

By hook or by crook, as they might argue, those youngsters were attracted by the antics of the closest relative to them, loved or admired for any act or principle exhibited for the easy-going and malleable young, grasping at appearances or likeable actions, like a chuck under the chin, a hug when nobody was looking, a cookie dropped unseen into the crib, taste dominating good memories; a favored grand-shooting uncle, an older brother with a flair for gunplay, a distant cousin’s name caught in newspaper headlines, smoke still issuing from his gun nozzle, as nabbed in action by an alert cameraman for a newspaper highlight of western matters. Successful gunmen made exciting copy for a farmer reading a scant newspaper, perhaps a copy passed from farmer to farmer; “Hey, look it here, Isaac, a picture of cousin Knobby in the newspaper, like he’s the king of the road, only robbed a small no-account bank where the president of the bank is as big a thief as the robber. Ho, that’s rich, ain’t it? Spoils to the spoiler, like Grandpa Henry used to say all the time.

There are accountings where a corn farmer, with a successful crop, might have stood in the middle of his field of dreams as he watched the Law chase Disorder across the prairie beyond the corn, a sheriff on a black horse chasing a bank robber

on a white horse, like Heaven and Hell got all mixed up. Men of such visions and dreams see things that way, you can bet your bottom dollar, saying, “This life is full of all kinds of signals and we better not miss many of them or we’ll be left behind plain rotting in a rick of hay.”

Favored relatives, it is easy to say, gain notable acceptance from their kinfolk, doesn’t matter how big or little the crime is, but getting your name in the paper is a sure highlight for tons of folks. That was proved the next town over, in Sparksburg, where Isaac McHenry’s cousin of a cousin gunned down a bank clerk with three kids and a wife at home waiting for him at suppertime as usual. That’s one Hell of a signal, hearing about it and plain waiting to see the proof of it; the dead carrying their own tales about with them until they’re locked down into the good earth, and folks who pray over them often hear the backtalk rising from the earth at their feet. Stories like that find their way to firesides, kitchens, dinner tables, side rests as dancing folk rest their bones from one another, and they only grow and spread among relatives and all listeners to tales; a good tale is good enjoyment, like watching a play on stage and you know the lead character really doesn’t get killed in this performance; like life being right there in the lines.

Jacob Wintersleeve, farmer to his roots, loved his uncle, Gregory Wintersleeve, whose name adorns so many wanted posters they could be bundled and booked, hundreds of different posters from The Allover, no matter where it is, or was, some towns, we know, crumble down and fade away like wood rot always moving back towards the beginning,

Gregory Wintersleeve robbed a hundred banks in about 10 states, never shot a bank clerk, or a bank president at protesting, and went to live “up north” with the sum of his goods, the bundles in particular serving as his means of support, a direct comfort in the handling of sums from a rich farmer, “who inherited the leavings of a rich uncle shot to death by a bank robber back East.” That’s a relative matter, of course.

Jacob had a son, Anders Wintersleeve, who robbed from the rich, relative as well as not, to gain his spot in the family history, grown on top of itself for half a century of the olden, golden west, and now a sleeping specimen of a life not so quiet and not so quaint.

Western families, regardless of their initial breakout, spread the goods with the bad,

never bragging, hiding their pasts as well as anybody could hide such goings on, and even marrying into the rich where receipt and recovery came with an animal love; those obeying without knowing they are obedient to the core.

Only one of all these folks sits supreme in his place, Martin O’Hara, kid of the clan, once a killer, now a meat king, who sits by a sumptuous fireplace in a sumptuous room in a sumptuous house, reading the grand tales in his own book. Inheritance, with his name on the cover directly under the title so that they seem forever inseparable.

All of this is traceable, all the way back to Boston, New York, and other points more easterly, if you get the drift.